Merry Hearts Make Light Days:
The War of 1812 Journal of Lieutenant John Le Couteur, 104th Foot
Donald E. Graves, editor

In June 1812, seventeen-year-old John Le Couteur, an officer in a Canadian regiment of the British army, arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to learn that war had broken out between the United States and Great Britain. For the next three years Le Couteur campaigned from Halifax to Fort Erie, and he left an entertaining memoir of his experiences full of tales of storm-tossed voyages, arduous winter marches, battles on land and water, the perils of courtship, Canadian high and low society – and the occasional ghost story – played out against the splendid landscapes of North America.

Though young by today’s standards, John Le Couteur was a brave and capable leader respected by the men he commanded, not least because he detested the punishment by flogging so common in the army of his time. Off duty, he was a charming young man who enjoyed a good prank, was a popular guest at parties, loved dancing and fancied himself in love with almost every pretty girl he met. Engagingly soft-hearted, he recalls how he nursed back to health a sick and wounded kitten.

His journal includes the epic fifty-day overland march he and his regiment made from New Brunswick to Kingston, Ontario, in the dead of winter, when reinforcements were direly needed in Upper Canada. When news arrived in 1814 that the war was over, he and his fellow officers entertained their American counterparts to dinner, and later Le Couteur travelled through New York State on his way back to England, recording his memorable impressions of his trip down the Hudson Valley.

A man of the Regency period (a time of public manners and private passions), Le Couteur recounts his true-life adventures with drama and action, laughter and love in an easy style that reads more like a novel than a historical memoir. Not only do many recent books on the War of 1812 quote his colourful journal, but Johnny himself appeared as a major character in the recent television documentary on “The War of 1812.”

John Le Couteur observed when he met some of his American opponents: “How uncomfortably like a civil war it seemed when we were in good-humoured friendly converse.…”

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